What would be the DC be for crushing a creature of the same size category to death during a grapple?

What about choking another character to death during a grapple?

How do I determine DCs and what criteria do I use for when my players ask off-the-wall, out-of-the-box questions like that?

At the moment they asked I just went with a strength check vs fortitude save. It made sense to me that a large, high strength barbarian could easily snap a wolf's spine while grappling.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Wolves are tougher than a Miniature Pinscher. If he bear hugged (grappled) the wolf and dealt enough unarmed damage to kill it, then you as DM would have every right to say, "The wolf's spine has snapped under your repeated crushing grip." \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 6:37
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Keynote: If you allow your players to do such overpowered acts of grappling, then they should also expect such overpowered acts of grappling. Allow that high strength barbarian to make a Fortitude Save or Die versus a Brown Bear's strength check. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 6:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you're satisfied with Ruut's or my answers, you might want to hit the checkmark near one of them to mark it accepted. You might also want to register your account so you don't have trouble editing this later, or lose the ability to upvote. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17995
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 20:33

2 Answers 2


There's no "DC" for either of those, any more than there's a DC for killing an enemy in combat with a sword.

Instead, there's grapple checks (like AC) and damage rolls that progress toward death or unconsciousness (depending on non-lethal vs lethal damage).

If your players are asking for a homebrew save-or-die in grappling, tell them there is absolutely no reason to add more complexity to an already-overburdened subsystem (grappling) and short-circuit existing defense systems (HP) more than is already the case.

In particular, save-or-dies are almost never available at low levels, almost always require daily resources (spell slots) or extra time spent, and almost always require significant character build investment in feats or spellcasting. Their request appears to be for a rule that any character can use as often as they like with investment needed only in perhaps a high Strength score and one feat (Improved Grapple, to remove a few penalties). That is terribly unbalanced.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok thank you I'm relatively new to gming and and at the moment they asked I just went strength check vs fortitude save. It made sense to me that day a large with high stregth barbarian, while grappling cwould easily snap say a wolf's spine \$\endgroup\$
    – user27152
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 5:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user27152: Well, for future reference, there you go. (In general D&D tries to avoid too tightly focusing on e.g. snapping spines, in favor of a more abstracted HP mechanic. If you like I can expand on the game design reasons for that.) \$\endgroup\$
    – user17995
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 5:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I like (and upvoted) this answer, but felt I should point out that I'm pretty sure there are rules somewhere for strangling someone to death (I'm only certain they exist for Pathfinder, but I'm fairly sure they exist in 3.5 as well), which IS a grappling-involved workaround for killing someone without depleting their hp. I've only ever seen it used once, against a high-level Wizard, to take advantage of his relatively weak Con/Fort to kill him much faster than wearing through 16 levels' worth of hit points, and even then it took tricks to be made effective, but it is there... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 6:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gatherer818: Does it require a feat chain? If so, I wouldn't be too surprised. Saddened, maybe, but not surprised. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17995
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 6:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TuggyNE I addressed it in my answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ruut
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 6:38

Learn About Grappling First

Before you do anything else as a DM, learn the grappling rules. You can find some additional resources provided by Wizards of the Coast here:

Some things of interest to learn so you know what can be possibly exploited (before your players start doing them to your NPC's) can be found in the Grappling Handbook.

**Specific Answers to Your Three Questions**
  1. Crushing a character to death would be bludgeoning damage as part of a successful grapple check.
  2. Choking a character to death, specifically, would be a 3rd Edition feat called Chokehold1, a special ability of Reaping Maulers called Sleeper Hold2, or a special ability of Black Blood Cultists called Stranglehold3.
  3. You determine DC's of things like that (you really shouldn't be thinking of DC's for things like that) by basing them on something readily found in the rules and making a slight modification to suit the situation. That sort of information of how to do that is outlined in the Dungeon Master's Guide. If you are new to DM'ing, I highly recommend reading the entire thing first. Especially since you don't understand all the combat rules in the Player's Handbook.

1If you pin your opponent while grappling and maintain the pin for 1 full round, at the end of the round your opponent must make a Fortitude saving throw (DC 10 + 1/2 your level + your Wisdom modifier). If the saving throw fails, your opponent falls unconscious for 1d3 rounds.
2At 3rd level, a reaping mauler learns how to render an opponent unconscious with pressure. If the character pins his opponent while grappling and maintains the pin for 1 full round, the opponent must make a Fortitude save (DC 10 + the reaping mauler's class level + the reaping mauler's Wis modifier) at the end of the round or fall unconscious for 1d3 rounds. A creature with no discernible anatomy has immunity to this effect.
3At 5th level, you learn to snap the necks of fallen enemies, allowing you to administer a coup de grace with your bite attack as a move action.

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